By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Eva Peron in her white gown with her sleek blonde chignon stands on the balcony outside the Academy of Music, giving Broad Street the regal two-armed wave. Below, on the sidewalk, women in killer stilettos are tangoing with slim men in black. Evita's back in town.
The 1978 show, by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, is a sung-through musical tragedy: it begins with a funeral and ends with a funeral, and in between there are flashbacks to a life of ruthless ambition, dirty politics, dirty sex, fatal cancer and darkness.
Eva Peron (Caroline Bowman) was, from 1944 to 1952, the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin). She was, we're told, adored by The People, first as first lady, then as a saint. At 15 she was a poor girl from nowhere; she leaves her family with a handsome tango singer Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone) and, arriving in Buenos Aires, becomes a celebrity slut, quickly learning the "art of the possible." Then she meets Col. Peron, and the rest is, literally-- if not accurately-- history.
The show's most interesting device is the character of Che (not Che Guevera, but just an ordinary working class guy; "che" means "hey" in Argentina). Josh Young (who's from Wallingford, PA) sings this ironical, passionate role in a glorious, rich voice.
It is in Che's observations and reactions—charmed and appalled--that Evita captures the ambiguity of her guilelessness charisma and her calculated sympathy for the peasants, while enabling her husband to destroy Argentina. They are the ultimate power couple who plot to "take the country" as they kneel before the priest in their wedding ceremony.
As Evita, Bowman is best in elegant mode: she seems to lack the trashy spitfire sexiness that seems crucial to her character, and so her transformation, like the character, isn't sufficiently dramatic. Her voice works well, but there, too, the role lacks drama.
The great songs are great again ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "You Must Love Me") but of all the 27 songs, only one, "And the Money Kept Rolling In," is upbeat. This grim similarity extends, logically, to the lighting (dark) and to the choreography (tango). It is, oddly, a one-note show.
Broadway Philadelphia at the Academy of Music, Broad & Locust Sts. Through June 22. Tickets $20-105. Information:215-731-3333 or kimmelcenter.org/broadway